"I think this role found me instead of me finding it," says Kyonna Bowman, executive director of The Mix at Arbor Place.
Bowman, 43, has led The Mix since July 2019, three years after she joined the nonprofit as program director.
Her path has been a circuitous one. Born and raised in Lancaster, she attended city schools. At age 16, pregnant with her son, Diante, she dropped out of 10th grade at McCaskey High School.
Entering the work force, she did "a little bit of everything," she said, working in a warehouse, restaurants, banking and as a supervisor at a water company. For several years, she was administrative assistant at Crispus Attucks Community Center.
Today, Diante is 26. Bowman and her husband, Kendrick, also have a son, Kenyon, age 14. Bowman earned her GED and associate's degree and is en route to a bachelor's degree in psychology at Millersville University.
Founded by pastor Marvin Weaver, The Mix opened in 1985. A faith-based youth development center, it offers after-school activities, summer programs, and other enrichment programming for school-aged children.
It is located at 520 North St. in southeast Lancaster, where for years it occupied a dilapidated former burlap-bag factory. That complex was torn down to make way for the current facility, built for $2.5 million and dedicated in March 2012.
It has a staff of 13, of whom four are full-time. In normal times, enrollment is typically around 80 or so, Bowman said; it is somewhat lower at present due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As Bowman describes in this interview, Black History Month took a personal turn for her this year when she learned, thanks to a local Black Facebook group, about her great-grandfather, an eminent local civil rights leader.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
One United Lancaster: How would you describe the role of The Mix?
Bowman: We try to look at the whole child. We try to tailor all of our activities, experiences and opportunities to the individual child and family. So, not only do we serve our students but we serve our families as well.
OUL: How has it been to navigate the pandemic?
Bowman: It's been challenging, but it has also allowed us to see beyond our limits. We are resilient. So while there have been challenges, we've also been so blessed by our commuity. So we're grateful for that.
OUL: Last year, we saw Black Lives Matter protests, nationwide and locally in Lancaster. Looking at those events, what reflections do you have?
Bowman: It was definitely a heavy time. I think it's important, as a Black woman, to use my voice whenever appropriate, to use my platform whenever appropriate. It's important to be able to facilitate healthy conversations, whether that's with my community, or just with my friends in my personal circle. I think it's healthy for us to have those open honest conversations whenever possible, because I think that's the way we can bridge that gap, the racial divide that we're seeing today.
Especially working with students, and students of color, I think it's important that we be able to introduce them to different opportunities to use their own voices, and show them that you can have good, healthy relationships with people that don't necessarily look like you. ...
I think that once we're able to embrace one another for who we are as individuals, and not for the color of our skin or our socioeconomic status or anything else, once we're able to view that other person as a person, we can have that real change happen.
OUL: What are the plans for The Mix going forward?
Bowman: Our plan is just to continue to be a safe space for the youth of Lancaster, to continue to provide our students and our families with opportunities and experiences. What that looks like, we never know. It changes often. So our plan is to continue to allow God to lead us.
OUL: Growing up, were you introduced to black history?
Bowman: In school you learn black history, but it wasn't really a big part of my family growing up. We didn't talk a whole lot about it, for whatever reason.
So I'm just now as an adult learning some of my history. I found out over the weekend about my great-grandfather, the Rev. Ernest Christian. He co-founded the NAACP here in Lancaster. He was a civil rights leader here and was on the board of Crispus Attucks Community Center.
OUL: How did you find out?
I just happened to be scrolling on Facebook. I came upon a picture, it said "The Rev. Ernest Christian," and I just started to read.
It was so inspiring, and just made me want to dig more into who I am. Apparently he had a youth hangout spot called "The Barn," which I never knew.
OUL: I'm surprised you didn't hear about him before.
Bowman: No, I never did. I don't know why. He was Ernest Christian Sr. My father was Ernest Christian III. He recently passed away, two months ago. So that's why it was important at that moment to learn all of that. ... Learning who my great-grandfather was, and seeing all the things that he's done in the community, it gave me a picture into why I am who I am.